The Price (Wyndhams)

This is the second production in my unofficial 2019 Arthur Miller theatrical quintet, following The American Clock. Still to come are The Crucible, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman.

It was also set to be an unofficial trio of actors who appeared in Downton Abbey, following Alys Always (Joanne Froggart) and Tartuffe (Kevin Doyle). But leading man Brendan Coyle is indisposed, so Sion Lloyd is on as Victor.

Brendan Coyle and Sara Stewart in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.
Brendan Coyle and Sara Stewart in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

The Price is rarely revived – I saw the 2004 production in Leeds with Warren Mitchell as Solomon, and there is an excellent TV version from 1971 which was led by George C Scott as Victor.

But the play isn’t particularly well known – a pity, as it is a family drama, with comic interludes (David Suchet’s ancient dealer Solomon is beautifully judged) and an eventual final act into which Lloyd’s tour de force as the seething policeman clashes with his selfish and wealthy brother Walter (Adrian Lukis).

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.
David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

Victor’s wife (a spiky Sara Stewart, who displays little warmth) has always resented his missed opportunities, lack of education, scrimping and saving while their lives were on hold. Now it has been three years since Dad has died, and his cluttered attic, represented brilliantly by Simon Higglett’s set which literally fills the walls with furniture, is to be cleared, sold, and the house demolished.

Adrian Lukis, David Suchet, Brendan Coyle in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.
Adrian Lukis, David Suchet, Brendan Coyle in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

The Price is a wordy and challenging play – Victor and Walter may be more like each other than they’d like to admit, and they are both complex and damaged characters. Jonathan Church’s direction of this 50th anniversary production gets to the heart of the matter.

Victor may feel crushed by lack of opportunity, but also lack of ambition – but it is the successful doctor Walter who has divorced, and who is recovering from a breakdown.

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.
David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

On the fringes of this brotherly discussion are the wife, the dealer, and the spirit of the dead dad, whose clutter both physical and financial, has stopped everyone moving on. Mum has been dead for years but her gowns are still carefully boxed. There’s a fencing sword, an oar, a harp.

I liked the way that music tops and tails the play, beginning with the vaudeville staple “Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean” (Solomon worked with them, in his youth, in a family of acrobats) and closing with a 1920s “laughing record”.

The Price closes on 27 April.


The Height of the Storm (Wyndham’s)

Florian Zeller’s play The Father (presented, as here, in Christopher Hampton’s translation), addressed the issue of an old man, Andre, suffering from dementia, and the efforts of his daughter Anne to keep the situation as normal as possible.

Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce

In The Height of the Storm, we again have a central character called Andre with a daughter called Anne.  He (played with sensitivity and flashes of power by Jonathan Pryce) is first encountered looking out of the kitchen window, the night after a storm, and we feel there is a loss pervading the house, somewhere, as Anne (Amanda Drew) talks of estate agents, managing alone, and flowers.

We are therefore somewhat wrongfooted at the appearance of Madeleine (a matter-of-fact Eileen Atkins, the centre of this home), wife to Andre and mother to Anne and to Elise (Anna Madeley), who joins her after a shopping expedition, leading to a flash of exposition about mushrooms, meals, and family togetherness.

Eileen Atkins, Amanda Drew, Jonathan Pryce, and Anna Madeley

Whether we are seeing what is real, or whether one, or both, of the parents have died, we are never quite sure.  Some scenes seem to be running in Andre’s confusion where he imagines his wife has only gone to her vegetable patch while their daughters are grieving for her loss; other times he is a frustrated observer at his own memorial rites.

What is certain is the cornerstone of this half-a-century of marriage, into which even the interpolation of “The Woman” is ultimately meaningless; whether she is a lost love and mother of an unknown child, or whether she is a well-meaning representative of a care home, we are never sure, and even her name becomes mangled in a sequence of similar appellations.

Jonathan Pryce

Pryce evokes the coming on of Alzheimer’s convincingly, from the stares of fear, the twitching, the repeated gestures, the angry outbursts, the confusion, and the ever-brief glimpses of a fragile lucidity.  Atkins, pursed-lipped and resigned, is the carer and the force to which he clings, and to which her daughters return, even when their presence is resented (the moment she angrily dismisses Anne with the f word is genuinely shocking, and funny).

As in The Father, there is a man who might be one thing, and might be another, and there is an uncomfortable and briefly threatening scene where we can taste the fear in the old man’s gait, and want nothing more than to reassure him that all is well.  Drew – who played Anne in The Father when I watched it – is very good as the elder child who tries to assume control of a situation she cannot understand any more than we can; and Madeley hovers on the sidelines, helpless to intervene or come to terms with her loss.

The last scene, to me, felt very final, as if these ghosts remained bonded in the house they had created, neither really knowing which one wasn’t there any more: perhaps Madeleine’s anecdote about the hotel was the fact no-one wanted to discuss?  What was really on the card with the flowers, and who dropped it?


Anyone who has lost someone close will want to see this, and will be intensely moved by the writing and the performances.  Jonathan Kent directs, Anthony Ward designs (and the set brilliantly evokes an ordered mind which has started to disintegrate, with its chair, window, knick knacks, and extensive library), and Lucy Cohu and James Hillier do what they can with small but necessary roles.

This production belongs to Pryce and Atkins, though, who match each other moment by moment, and completely convince throughout.  This rather marvellous, quiet, and short (80 minutes) piece runs at the Wyndham’s until the 1st December.

Photos by Hugo Glendinning.

Red (Wyndham’s Theatre)

A revival of John Logan’s play about the artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970), this play brings back its star, Alfred Molina, and director Michael Grandage, for its West End debut, following a 2009 run at the Donmar Warehouse, and later on Broadway.

Alongside Molina’s bald, brash and bullish Rothko, Alfred Enoch plays Ken – a young artist who assists Rothko in the creation of his sequence of abstract canvases of reds, blacks, and browns, destined for the walls of a high-class restaurant for the nouveau riche.

Red 1

We first meet both men in the claustrophobic studio, lit by low lighting and dominated by the huge and bloated canvasses, cavernous blood reds (or variants on red, enumerated in one amusing back and forth exchange) and harsh blocked shapes.  Rothko is self-absorbed, uncompromising, creative, with each painting a child with its umbilical cord ripped from the heart.

As this short piece – just 90 minutes – progresses we see the men achieve an unspoken understanding about art, which culminates with Ken, enthusing about the pop art revolution of Warhol and Lichtenstein, just as Rothko and his contemporaries shook up the establishment in their day, emerging from the chrysalis as a fully formed butterfly, ready to go it alone with his own work (which we never see).

There are moments of pathos in this play, which reminded me at times of the closing moments of Yasmina Reza’s clever three-hander, Art.  Molina displays both the passion of the veteran painter – in the vibrant and almost balletic sequence where he and Enoch prime an entire canvas in maroon tones, leaving them exhausted, paint-speckled, and fully engaged with the joy of creation – and the tragedy of a painter finding himself almost out of time, reduced to ‘selling out’ for the masses.


This play is a treat, which made me start to read around about the abstract painters and their descendants.  Both leading roles are judged perfectly, and a nod needs to be made to Christopher Oram’s richly dressed sets, Neil Austin’s lighting design, and Adam Cork’s sound design, which mixes gramophone records of opera, classical and jazz.

Red continues at the Wyndham’s until the 28th July 2018.


Long Day’s Journey into Night (Wyndham’s)

Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play comes to the West End in another lengthy production, this time starring Jeremy Irons as ageing actor James Tyrone, and Lesley Manville as his morphine-addicted wife, Mary.

A claustrophobic set lined with books and lights moves the plot forward as first, we see Mary Tyrone in recovery, happy and calm, but soon realise she is in her own reality of dope heaven (or hell). In Manville’s hands the role takes on both the fierceness and deceit of an addict, along with the weakness of the wife and mother who ‘once fell in love with James Tyrone, and was so happy’.


Irons is a theatrical Tyrone, every inch an actor and never a glimpse into the real man. He baits his sons – the shiftless Jamie (Rory Keenan) and the consumptive Edmund (Matthew Beard) – and yet can’t control even the level of whisky in the bottle he keeps on the table. He sees the girl within his wife, but can’t reach her.

The twisting hands, the trailing wedding dress, the lying on the bed with eyes open, the drifting, the drinking, the moments where just for a minute or two Mary Tyrone is happy again. It’s all about her, and the moments where Manville is absent from the stage drag, just a little, in a heart to heart between Irons and Beard where the latter just can’t catch the tragedy of the character.


Keenan, though, is good, filled with self-loathing and self-destruction, on a spiral of disappointment by seeing addiction and disgust all around him. He has his father’s name and perhaps, his weakness too. There’s nothing but a downward spiral for all of them, in this raw and broken world where everyone lies and no one can face what’s really going on around them.

No Man’s Land (Wyndham’s Theatre)


One of theatre’s current hot tickets is Sean Mathias’ production of Harold Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land’, which is running at the Wyndham’s.

It stars Ian McKellen as Spooner and Patrick Stewart as Hirst, in the roles originated forty-one years ago by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.  Named after turn of the century cricketers (as are the supporting characters in this play, Briggs – played by Owen Teale – and Foster – played by Damien Molony), these elderly gentlemen are first introduced to us in Hirst’s opulent drinking den, knocking back neat whisky ‘as it is, absolutely as it is’ and sparring with words.

Hirst is the Yorkshireman made good, the working man who has become an accepted member of the literati, while the Lancastrian Spooner has a cultural background but is reduced to collecting beer mats in a seedy pub.  Hirst has a young, leather-jacketed housekeeper, Foster, and a bruising butler/cook, Briggs, who has a beautiful speech in act two about ‘Bolsover Street’.

McKellen’s reactions are, of course, priceless throughout, and he clearly relishes the comment about ‘consuming the male member’, while Stewart is in command on Pinter’s pauses and inflections throughout: making them a formidable team.  They also imbibe a lot of liquid refreshment in act one (which perhaps makes an interval necessary in an 100 minute play), while McKellen relishes a scrambled egg and bread breakfast in act two.

With Pinter, there are no real answers to what his plays are about.  They pinpoint the human condition, the intrusion of strangers, the faultiness of memories, the pointlessness of life.  Every word is weighted, every move is choreographed, the set is minimalist (chairs, a bar, a window, a light, and video projection which makes the trees at the top of the set appear to move with the sound of birdsong).

This is a superior piece of theatre, highly recommended.  It runs until December this year.

King Charles III (Wyndham’s Theatre)

This highly topical play by Mike Bartlett is set in a not-so-distant future.  Queen Elizabeth II has passed away after reigning for seven decades, and her son Charles ascends to the throne for which he has been in waiting for so many years.  However being a very different type of person to his mother, he quickly makes decisions which shake the very foundations of freedom and democracy.

This has been done before, of course, notably in the second part of the House of Cards trilogy, but never before with the real Royal names and faces implicated.

In a scene where a Charles in full military regalia storms into the House of Commons and dissolves Parliament, there are of course parallels with that earlier autocratic monarch and namesake, Charles I, while William and Catherine are presented very much as the scheming Macbeths, with Kate taking the initiative to topple the very fabric of tradition – even in the opening scenes she is querying the right of monarch to reign in advance of the Coronation.

This is all fantasy, of course, down to Harry finding love with a girl from a council estate and seeking to put aside his Royal title, and to appearances from the ghost of Charles’ first wife Diana.  The play is written, cleverly, in blank verse, which means it steps back to the time of Shakespeare where the Right of Kings perhaps meant more than the ceremonial significance of the role does now.

The Royal Prerogative of refusing Assent to a Bill passed by the Houses of Parliament has not been acted upon since the days of Queen Victoria, and this play playfully surmises what might happen should a King fail to sign a piece of legislation – in this case a Bill affecting the freedom of the press.  In this future universe, Labour is in power but with a PM called Tristan, while the Conservative Leader of the Opposition is a slippery figure, not to be trusted.

As a spectacle, this play is a winner, from the choral opening with candles, through to cast members resembling their real-life counterparts just enough for us to feel on familiar ground, yet with personalities that are very different.  At times the play does verge on the cruel – I can’t imagine Kate bullying her father-in-law into abdication, or Charles to rant at William that he reminds him of the worst of Diana.

There have been casting changes, too, necessitated by Tim Pigott-Smith’s recent car accident, and so his understudy, Miles Richardson, now appears as Charles.  At a distance he has a slight resemblance to impressionist Alistair McGowan, which is a little distracting, but he does well enough, although reviewers who have seen both actors state that Richardson’s interpretation is weaker and less brought down by his pride.  Margot Leicester is Camilla, funny and tough, while Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson look the part as William and Kate, as does Richard Goulding as Harry.  Adam James is the PM, Nicholas Rowe is the Opposition Leader, and Jess the Republican representing the common people is Tafline Steen.

If we could have a world where there is a tank in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where a press conference can be hijacked by a Prince in waiting, and where an abdication could be forced within weeks – this play does give food for thought.  I also liked how Harry initially does not speak in blank verse until well into the play, which makes him seem more of an outsider, and the second act opener where a man in a Charles mask is hounded by the mob – just in case we have forgotten who the subject of this play is meant to be.

Driving Miss Daisy (Wyndhams Theatre)

Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 1 October 2011.

Just back from a preview of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, which has transferred from Broadway with the original revival cast – Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, and Boyd Gaines, at frighteningly inflated prices.  More about those prices later.

Many people assume that the piece first started as the Oscar-winning film which paired Jessica Tandy with Morgan Freeman, with Dan Aykroyd as her son – but not so.  Alfred Uhry wrote the play for the stage in 1987 and although Freeman transferred with it from stage to screen, they are too very different beasts.  The theatre version has minimal sets (and some back projection, new to this production, to provide a visual memoir of people like Martin Luther King), and does not open out the story to include any other characters.  Boolie’s wife is never seen – on the screen she was given person and voice by Broadway legend Patti Lu Pone.

Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones
Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones

So, at prices nudging over £100 for a stalls seat, and £48 for a decent enough grand circle spot, is this ninety-minute piece of theatre worth going to?  I had seen Vanessa Redgrave before several times, notably in Hecuba (where she was miked up, as her voice didn’t travel well to the cheap seats), and The Year of Magical Thinking (in which she played a mother grieving for the loss of a daughter, something which would tragically happen to her in real life shortly afterwards).  James Earl Jones was last in London for an all-black revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which he was a dynamic and memorable Big Daddy, so I knew what to expect here and knew he would be good in the role of Hoke, the poor coloured chauffeur who is engaged to drive around the rich Jewess Miss Daisy.  Boyd Gaines was a bit of an unknown quantity – I know he has done a lot of Broadway work, but he is less revered here; he does well in a small part.

Driving Miss Daisy felt old-fashioned even in 1987, a product of a bygone age where civil liberties were beginning to change and the accepted dynamic between those of different religions and colours were shifting to something from another world – the action within the short span of the play moves from 1948 to 1972, and we see Daisy and Hoke age, grow and evolve during that time.  It is a thoughtful play, well-acted, and would probably be worth £50 of your money for a decent seat up close.  However, I have to mark it down for the pure greed of those ticket prices.

I wasn’t overly amused or touched, and I feel that Ms Redgrave (who was indisposed a night or so ago and looks frail even at curtain call) is perhaps not the right casting for the smart, quick and fiercely proud Miss Daisy – but she and her fellow stars have the requisite spark, and it is rare to see true theatre legends live before you.  I’m glad I went – just don’t expect to be blown away as you would be with some of the productions currently running in the West End.  This production provides Leicester Square with a quiet hour and a half – and the couple next to me this afternoon, who saw it on Broadway and then came to London on holiday purely to see it again are testament to its lasting star quality.